Known for its hot springs, cool wines, and warm welcome, Calistoga celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2011. Located at the very top of the beautiful Napa Valley, Calistoga is the hot springs resort destination, all in a small-town setting with a sophisticated, yet friendly feel.
Much of the region’s history is still alive in Calistoga, from authentic Victorian architecture to the city’s famous mineral hot springs. In fact, its historic roots are so intact that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Calistoga a “Distinctive Destination.” It recognizes Calistoga as one of an elite group of American communities dedicated to preserving its town’s character and sense of place.
Old Faithful Geyser
At the northern end of the Napa Valley, a mile or two underground – or maybe deeper – water condenses and drips its way into a vast underground reservoir in a layer of fractured rock. Below that, perhaps another mile or more, molten magma swirls and bubbles, heating the water above until it begins to turn to steam. As the steam rises, it heats more water along the way and together the mixture races upward, looking for release. At its most noticeable exit areas, such as the geyser just north of Calistoga, the heated concoction shoots above ground like a giant sub-service water pistol. The mixture of liquid and steam can reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit and catapult itself 40 feet or more into the air. It’s a sight to behold!
The geyser is indeed an amazing sight, but it isn’t the only show in town. For literally centuries, humans have made pilgrimages to natural hot springs and mud baths in the area, seeking the curative properties of heated water, minerals and mud.
Much of the mud in the area is infused with volcanic ash, said to be particularly effective in pulling toxins from the body. The Wappo Indians, living in the northern valley 8,000 years ago, bathed in the warm sulfur waters and may have used mud for its restorative values as well. The first Europeans in the area—the Spanish—did the same more than 300 years ago and called the area “Agua Caliente.” Resorts began promoting mineral and mud baths in Calistoga more than a century and a half ago. Now, more than two dozen spas and hot springs dot the landscape around Calistoga.
Some three million years ago, a volcanic eruption turned a forest of giant redwoods into solid quartz and stone — now called the Petrified Forest. Discovered in 1857, these preserved trees offer insight into geological formations and give visitors a glimpse of a prehistoric world. You can also take a guided meadow walk to learn more about the volcanic activity, among Oak, Douglas Fir, Madrone, Manzanita trees, wildflowers, and views of Mount St. Helena. In 1880, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about his visit here in his book, The Silverado Squatters.